Elwood 5566

Korean Bathhouse Worldwide

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture by 노강호 on April 20, 2016

USA (Click photos for link to homepages)

USA. Oregon, Jade Sauna

King Spa Chicago and Dallas. USA

Inspa Castle, New York

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Korean Bathhouse and Jjimjilbang Tips

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture by 노강호 on April 20, 2016
Home Spa World, Apsan, Daegu. Bathhouse

Come on in!


Ready to take that plunge? No doubt, many will have no worries entering a bathhouse but if the experience is likely to stress you, here are some tips.


1. Sometimes, fitness centers have adjacent bathhouses and jjimjilbang. If this is the case you can use the sports facilities a few times in order to familiarise yourself with everything before using the bathhouse.

2. Male and worried about willy size? Don’t be! I’ve seen toddlers with cocks bigger than mine and no one pays much attention. Or you could try  adding an extra centimeter by trimming surrounding hair. I once read that every forty pounds lost, assuming you are that fat to begin with, increases the appearance of size by one inch. One the other hand, if you’re as fat as I am an extra few stone would supply enough lagging to provide an overhang sufficient to hide it completely.


1. Choose a quiet time for you first encounter. Early morning, eg. 5 am, though anytime before 7am on the weekends is good. Alternatively, if the establishment closes, a good time to attend is on a weekend a couple of hours before closing time.

2. Avoid public holidays,  unless you’re prepared for a full house and avoid both  ‘play Saturdays’ (놀토) when there are no schools, and school, university vacation periods. Sunday is often the busiest day.

WALKING THE PLANK TO THE POOLS – this is the scariest part

1. Keep a watch on. It’s really useful as a diversionary play thing should you feel uncomfortable. If you fiddle with it nonchalantly as you walk to the baths, it will help distract you from the glances of other punters.

2. On your first encounter you’ll probably head straight for the bathhouse complex blotting out everything on the way. Try to remember to pick up a towel and a wash cloth, usually located around the complex entrance. This can be used the same way as your watch when you get stressed or ultimately, to bury your face in.

3. Male and worried about willy size? Give your dick a quick stretch before setting off on the walk of shame.

ONCE INSIDE – you’ve made it!

1. Get straight under a stand up shower and get wet. The water will occupy you as you gather your senses for some exploration and familiarization.

2. Remember, if you head straight for the showers which are situated at floor level, you will have to sit on a bucket sized seat. All bathhouses have regular, standing showers which provide a good vantage point to familiarise yourself with the bathhouse layout and practices and don’t necessitate sitting in an undignified position.

3. Soap, towels, toothpaste are all provided. If you drop the soap and find this embarrassing, park your arse in a corner before bending down, or  with your knees together, bend with the  knees and not from your waist. Alternatively, rapidly kick the soap into the drain and ignore it.

4. When you get up from the bucket seat, roll slightly onto one butt check and then onto the other before standing up as this breaks any pockets of suction between your arse and the seat.

5. Don’t stand up after sitting on a towel without whipping the towel from under you as you stand. Failure to do this will cause it to stick to your butt.


1. If you remember to take a towel in with you can use this to sit in a convenient spot and dry off prior to leaving. On your first visit you will probably want to escape quickly and this will be prolonged if you are dripping wet. If there is an ice room, five minutes sat in this, especially in summer, will quickly dry you off but this procedure has a detrimental effect on males.

2. If you get to this point, well done!

Good luck! I’d love to hear other suggestions!

I apologise for their being a lack of tips for females but as of yet I have never been in a female bathhouse. Suggestions welcomed!

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Bathhouse and Jjimjilbang reviews

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture by 노강호 on April 20, 2016

Reviews and info

I don’t intend this page to provide any more than brief information on my local amenities. I am too lazy to go further afield. Hence information, always changing and subjective by nature, is largely confined to Daegu and in particular, the Song-So area. When I use a facility I record basic details and perhaps some of my feelings towards the establishment. Remember, things change rapidly in Korea and even if an establishment remains around for any duration you can guarantee some features have changed.

I have provided a wikimapia link for most establishments.

If you are interested in the design of bathhouses I have a page with detailed plans that provides an easy means of comparison.

I notice on search results numerous inquiries into gay activity in bathhouse and jjimjilbangs, etc. I will add a note if I see anything but being useless at such behaviour and not even looking for it, my pages are not the place to look for such information.

Feel free to post any observations.



Daegu subway map (click for legible resolution)




The Su-mok-won Saeng Hwal On Ch’eon complex

Na Seong Hawaii


Wonderful Spa Land. Sports, golf, jjimjilbang and a ‘milky bubble bath’





Home Spa World, Apsan. Very large and luxurious with swimming pool, fitness, golf, yoga and jjimjilbang.


Ch’eonchiwon Po-seok Sauna, health club and jjimjilbang


Greenvill, Banwoldang: jjimjilbang,


Goong Jeong Lavender near Dong Daegu Station: cave pool, roof garden, Dead Sea Pool,



Hyu Lim Won: jjimjilbang, large massage pool, new facilities, parking,


Migwang Spolex: large complex, golf, sports, jjimjilbang, mogyoktang, ice rooms, squash, billiards,  parking, associated buffet restaurant

Hwang So: intimate bathhouse and large jjimjilbang, sport complex, next to Mega Town’s Lotte Cinema Complex

Han Song, near MacDonalds. Older, friendly establishment with salt sauna


Dream Sauna, next to Home Plus: bright, salt sauna and yellow earth sauna

Sam Jeong Oasis Sauna. Behind Lotte Castle:

Jade Sauna in Yongsandong: small, very clean,



Kayasan Hotel with a beautiful bathhouse with scenic views


Po Sot, Song-so


Airport Mokyoktang and jjimjilbang.


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Korean Bathhouse Links

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture by 노강호 on April 20, 2016

where foreigners fear to tread

Posts on Bathhouse and JJimjilbang Female Perceptive

Naked in a Jjimjilbang: For a woman’s perspective on using a bathhouse (which is mistakenly described as a jjimjilbang). Excellent account.

Dragon Hill: This famous jjimjilbang, situated in Seoul, is one of the largest and plushest in the world.

First Contact: An interesting account of a trip to  a bathhouse, from a nun!

In a Korean Bathhouse: an account of a trip to a bathhouse.

Horror in the Bathhouse: This is a well written account of a first trip to a bathhouse which has a special allure as it was written in 2001 when the reception to waygukin in a bathhouse, was quite different from that of 2010.

Conquering the 쨤질방 – actually the author is conquering the 목욕탕.

Who Would Have Guessed (March 2011) from Away We Go – a first time account

Experiencing Dragon Hill Spa (Dec. 2010) from Gone Seoul Searching – a review of Asia’s largest bathhouse and jjimjilbang.

Tales of the World: Get Naked, from The Waiting (2012).

Posts on Bathhouse and Jjimjilbang.

Male Perspective

Getting Clean (Feb. 22nd 2009) From: Tony in Korea – another account of a first time visit to a bathhouse

Saunas and Jjimjilbang in Korea (March 2011) from, Jonny on the Road

A Peek into a Seoul Bathhouse (April 28th 2011) from –  The Korea Times. A touching account of a Korean grandfather’s bathhouse experience which both traverses generations and culture.
Sleeping at Incheon Airport
(April 25th 2011) From Jonny on the Road – an insight in what  looks to be a luxurious experience.

Bathhouses in Seoul – My Favourite Jjimjilbang (2015) – let Christine take you on a video tour of the jjimjilbang.

Blogs Dedicated to Bathhouse and JJimjilbang

JJimjilbang and Saunainformation on various facilities and events.

General Information on Jjimjilbang

36 Hours in Seoul (NY Times)

First Time Jjimjilbang: How to visit a Korean bathhouse. A good comprehensive insight into using a jjimjilbang. (2015 – Lonely Planet)

Korean How-to Guide: Jjimjilbang in 5 easy steps. An step by step guide and some links to a few central location jjimjilbang. (2013)

A Look at Korea’s Culture from the Bathhouse (2014) The New York Times extensive expose of Korean bathhouses.

How to use a Korean Spa (2015) From Eat Your Kimchi, a popular vlog series which many expats in Korea use.

Korean Bathhouse and the Children’s Age limit Dilemma (2013) An interesting account from Koreabang.

Links to Bathhouse Information Globally (Non Korean)

There Is a separate page for Korean style bathhouses outside Korea

The American-Korean Bathhouses: A Review

A Funhouse Floating in a Korean Spa (2009). A reveiw of Inspa World, College Piont, Queens, New York. This review is from the New York Times.

Spa Castle, New York. Their website revamped in 2016.

Links to Bathhouses in History


Filched Comments on Bathhouses Culture


1) I’ve been here almost 6 years and haven’t gone. No nerve. Plus I’d rather go with someone who knows the ropes than faking it by myself. I’m not much into public nudity – I hated public showers back home too…at the gym etc

2) I was deeply squeamish about ‘exposing’ myself in group situations in Canada, all my life. As if there was something indecent about it — a weird indoctrination that ‘private parts’ must be kept hidden. Plus the fear of lurking glances & anxiety that ‘average’ didnt measure up! Well phooey on that nonsense. From my first visit to the bath houses here I’ve felt liberated from self-consciousness about my body. It is what it is & I’m comfortable in it. Most Koreans are very relaxed about same-sex nudity & discretion is the norm — everyone just goes about their own business.
(Maybe a little different on the women’s side? Friends tell me Korean women can be quite open in their scrutiny & comments, but most of my friends just shrug it off.)

It’s a neat feeling when you can be naked in front of strangers & not give it a second thought. I was in a spa the day Kim Dae-jung flew to North Korea to meet Kim Jong-il, we were maybe 50 naked men & boys standing glued to the tv as DJ walked across the runway & the two of them shook hands. We all spontaneously applauded & several older men wiped away tears. Unforgettable.

Or the time I was in a hot-springs showering next to a western friend on his first visit & I’d forgotten my shampoo. The look! & then the laughter, when I asked him, Can I bum a squirt?

3) I was exactly the same before…then my roommate took me to the bath house in our neighborhood and I was hooked. The nudity thing wears off fast, and its rejuvenating. I go every day to my local bath house and once a week to the spa in Busan (onchinjang). Its just the best.

4) I love the bathhouse. Same, at first, I was so hesitant… Just to be naked in front of so many strangers. And yes my chest is noticeably larger than any Korean woman I’ve ever met. So there were body issues, but I went with a friend one time and have no qualms about returning (and have since that time).

The first two times I didn’t wear my contacts (because of all the steam), so it was actually good not being able to see anything in close focus. And not being able to notice if anyone was really staring. But the funny part was, I was stared at less than when I have clothes on. A little akward meeting another foreigner there, but I’ve experienced weirder things in Korea. Had a blast befriending some young girls and playing around and showing them some swimming moves (in the cool pool).

So my advice. You’ve got to experience a bathhouse AT LEAST once while in Korea. If you don’t like it, then fine. But I’m sure a lot of people will find they love it and go back again and again. So try to go when you first get here and not towards the end of your contract, because you will probably regret not going earlier. I know I did.

5) Give it a try just once and you’ll be hooked. I’ve been here since fall of ’99 and I think it was 4 years later I finally went into one. Worked at a hagwon with both a health club and a sauna in the basement of the building. Didn’t have to teach until 2 pm on MWFs, so guess what I did 3 times a week? Yep, first one, then the other … best way to be nice to your body. Well, second best, anyway …

6) I wish the staff knew enough English to tell the foreigners who insist on wearing their underwear in the pools to go away tho.

NEGATIVE (By predominantly Pumpkin People)

1) What about the staring? I get stared at enough with my clothes on. I hate to think what it would be like once I’m naked. What are other chicks experiences? my boss has said she goes every Sunday, and has invited me to go with her, but i am rather nervous about wandering around naked with everybody pointing and looking at me.

2) The staring does not go away; you just don’t notice it after a while. There is nothing worse than having light-coloured pubic hairs and a larger than average “you-know-what” and having pansy Korean men staring at and talking about your hardware like a drooling Liberace fan. You want to see a white man’s “yoo-hoo”? Check the Internet you pyontai… I wouldn’t go anymore…

3) I heard a story about this chick from South Africa who went to a bath house in Seoul. She was scrubbing away when an ajima pulled out a camera and took a photo of her!!! That story has well and truly put me off going to a bath house!

4) I’m with the Wall on this one: I used to go pretty regularly, and loved it, but having guys check out and comment on my tackle every single time became a bit much. They wouldn’t even look at my face for Christ’s sake. So I’d stare back in the same fashion. It is true, you know, what they say about Asian measurements . . .

5) And my 02. worth. Korean bathhouses? Dirty. Think abut this for a minute.
The hot and cold pools. The water is NOT filtered. You have people who scrub their body and DON’T rinse off and still jump into the pools. I’ve seen it and I’m sure you have also. Leave the sauna, sweat pouring off you and hop into the cold pool! I have never seen a sauna in Korea that filters the water. It gets changed once or twice a day. Japan? Yes the water is filtered and cleaned. Not Korea. I know a few people who caught the crabs in these saunas. The blankets in the sleeping rooms are not washed daily. The towels that the saunas give you to dry off usually are not washed in hot water. I’m not bad mouthing Korea saunas, I have been to a few but most are dirty. Even the fancy looking saunas that are expensive to enter do not filter the hot/cold pool water. People are peeing in them also. I’d think twice. The saunas are good things but many are lacking customers who use good hygiene. If you are lucky enough, you might have been using one when it was being cleaned. I was and never did return.

6) I’ve always been a little apprehensive about the whole thing of going to a spa. All of the other waygooks are talking about how there’s the whole “people comment on my ‘Western-sized’ tool”. This causes apprehension because as a waygook, I have a smaller-than-average. So, I may get some “why is he so small for being white?” comments. It’s all silly insecurity but alas…

7) I’ve also been here since 2001 and have never gone. I’m not into sausage fests. I work out every day and shower at home. The room of soapy Koreans just doesn’t appeal to me.

8) I went once and was the opposite of being hooked!

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Pray it’s a Foreigner Serving Your High Tea

chocolate fingers – as British as high tea

(Originally published March 15th 2011) Here’s something to ponder. You’re going to be forced to stick your nose up someone’s butt. They might be clothed, they might not. The only choice you have in the matter is what nationality they will be.

Podcast 75

When I used to train and teach taekwondo in the UK, sweaty sessions often produced brown watery stains on the butts of students’ white suits. I used to refer to it as ‘bum lick’ and basically, after rubbing shit around your arse  smearing it clean, residue remains which when mingled with sweat produces shitty water which then stains your pants. Despite the hideously hot summers in Korea, I have never seen ‘bum lick’ on kids taekwondo pants probably because their diet is substantially different. The moment you convert to loading up on pizza, big mac, bread and pastries plus a churn load of milk, cheese, butter and cream and it takes five minutes and half a roll of toilet paper to smear yourself clean.

Now, I’m not into backsides but if I were forced to stick my nose up someone’s crack, but could choose the nationality of the backside, it would most definitely be Korean. I base my choice on two reasons, firstly: a Korean diet leaves less mess and secondly, Koreans are simply more fastidious about personal hygiene.

guess where they’ve been?

With a culinary repository heavily based on soupy type recipes, Korean food never hangs about in the gut too long and when it is expelled it is ejected with such force that suction drags out any loitering debris.  Typical British food however, loiters in the intestines and has to be squeezed out of the body like toothpaste.  It passes through the body at such a slow pace that the entire intestinal track contains one enormous fecal sausage, a gigantic colonic conga which congests the entire gut like an enormous traffic jam as it slowly worms its way downward. Kimchi jjim, or a bowl of bean curd soup however, is ingested and processed at such speed that by the time it is blown out not only is the consistency unchanged but so too is its temperature.  With such force is it ejected from the body that it cleans your backside as it departs.   And I have to say, cleaning-up up after a Korean meal is not much different to dabbing your mouth after a drink of water whereas a British diet can only be compared with trying to smear-up a muddy hole.

despite what you might hear, most Koreans do shower before getting in a pool

And you know most Koreans wash their backsides thoroughly because  you can watch them doing it in a bathhouse. Many people in the UK still use bathtubs as a primary source of personal hygiene but how can you wash your arse in a little swaddling tub that binds your knees together and prevents easy access. Worse, the same water than cleans your body, that contains dead skin cells, hair, and other scud, the same water that rinsed out your backside and crotch, is then wallowed in. Yew! What a filthy habit and one almost as revolting as fitted carpets or cotton handkerchiefs. British showers aren’t much better being taken standing in restrictive bathtubs or in shower cubicles that provide as much freedom of movement as would a coffin.  Have you ever seen a westerner clean their backside?  And how do western kids learn how to clean themselves in that area? Are they just left to learn for themselves or do they simply let their underwear soak it up? I assume most westerners clean out their arses but I’ve never seen them doing it.

Nothing annoys me more than those who condemn Korean bathhouses, especially if they’ve only been a few times, and consider them places of moral and physical corruption or seething with rampant contagious infections; or those who like to bash Koreans because they use chopsticks in communal bowls of food or because they once had to use a crappy toilet.  Yes, of course somethings in Korea seem ‘dirtier than they do back home but traveling shouldn’t just spotlight the inadequacies in your host country but should also expose ones you hadn’t considered back home. Last year I came across a commentary by a westerner who complained:

And my 02. worth. Korean bathhouses? Dirty. Think about this for a minute.
The hot and cold pools. The water is NOT filtered. You have people who scrub their body and DON’T rinse off and still jump into the pools. I’ve seen it and I’m sure you have also. Leave the sauna, sweat pouring off you and hop into the cold pool! I have never seen a sauna in Korea that filters the water. It gets changed once or twice a day. Japan? Yes the water is filtered and cleaned. Not Korea. I know a few people who caught the crabs in these saunas. The blankets in the sleeping rooms are not washed daily. The towels that the saunas give you to dry off usually are not washed in hot water. I’m not bad mouthing Korea saunas, I have been to a few but most are dirty. Even the fancy looking saunas that are expensive to enter do not filter the hot/cold pool water. People are peeing in them also. I’d think twice. The saunas are good things but many are lacking customers who use good hygiene. If you are lucky enough, you might have been using one when it was being cleaned. I was and never did return.

Actually, I don’t totally disagree! People, me included, go from the various saunas into one of the pools, bodies sweating, and occasionally I see kids get straight in a pool without showering and some bathhouses are cleaner than others. I’m sure some people must pee in the water and I’ve certainly seen people pee in the showers. Is the water filtered? Well, I know water is sucked in through vents and in other places blown out. Is this filtration? I’m no more aware of filtration systems than I would be in British swimming pools where people often swim without showering, and if they do it’s only in a cursory manner, and in which they do urinate. I’ve even seen a turd floating in a British swimming pool but most of us aren’t too bothered about pool hygiene because chlorine sanitizes not just the watery environment but mentally as it leads us to believe the environment is biologically sanitized.  British pools might be bug free, but are they clean? Would you wallow in a cesspit if it were purged with a bottle of chlorine?

with a chlorinated pool one can wash their muck off in the water

Without doubt some infections are passed in bathhouses, ‘red eye’ (conjunctivitis) being one and possibly a nasty infection of the testicles but even a mild infection of the bollocks is nasty as it results in them needing to be groped by your GP.  Personally, such risks I consider small and I’m happy to gamble infection for the pleasures bathhouses provide.  In years of using bathhouses I only ever had one infection and it’s debatable where it would have been contracted. I can identify a number of practices I consider unsavoury in Korea, some examples being how individuals might dump garbage at collection points which isn’t bagged, or dipping odeng (오댕 -fish cake snacks) into communal soy sauce bowls, a habit which I think might actually have almost phased out.  Then there is the habit many kids have of coughing in your face without covering their mouth with a hand.

beware the communal soy sauce dip – great for herpes

Some restaurants, especially small ones, have dubious cooking areas but once again I’ve seen just as bad in the UK where kitchens are usually hidden from public view.  Several years ago I attended a course which was hosted in a prestigious yacht club. When the caterer didn’t turn up, we took it upon ourselves to use the kitchen to make tea and coffee and what we found was alarming; filthy fridges containing curdled milk and atrophied onions, meat placed above vegetables and shelves tacky with sugary residue on which cups were stored upside down. I made a complaint to the local authorities which resulted in the restaurant being fined several thousand pounds. The head chef, who was subsequently sacked, had previously owned a swanky sea food restaurant in the same village.  Though lots of westerners will bemoan the state of many public toilets, I’ve seen far worse examples in the UK. I taught in one school where kids would deliberately urinate on the toilet floor, and even, on occasion, defecate beside the toilet rather than in it. There’s good and bad in all cultures but I will admit to being more lenient in terms of standards when I am eating something that costs next to nothing than I am when confronted with bad practices in an expensive, pretentious eatery. When eating out is expensive and an exception rather than the rule, as it is in the UK, I don’t expect Faecal Fingers or dirty anything.

an ultra-violet sanitizer in my last Korean high school

Generally, I do not think standards differ too much between Britain and Korea except in terms of personal hygiene, which unfortunately is one of the most important criteria. It’s great having no rubbish lying in your streets or chlorine in public bathing water but it makes little odds if the community around you are filthy fuckers. Several years ago, research by a British University revealed that between 6 and 53% of city commuters had faecal matter on their hands. (BBC News 2008) Apparently, the further north you go in Britain, the higher the rates of contamination.  This is especially alarming when you consider British people will usually fully unwrap a burger before eating it and are much more likely to put things like fingers and pens in their mouths. I’m the first to admit I unwrap my burger fully in order to consume it and find comfort in fingering the bun but Koreans always eat it from the wrapper even after washing their hands.

my students find this a dirty habit

A person’s hands are the prime tools of first contact, they touch people, open doors, activate buttons and knobs, finger and prepare food and much more; they are the tools which, with an opposing thumb, not only define us as primates, but facilitate and make possible our interaction with the physical world.  You can have all the brains in the world but without thumbs – you’re screwed! At the other end of the scale, your bum-hole does very little and generally spends a large proportion of the day sitting on its arse. If a person fails to sanitize their hands after a dump , if they can’t even be bothered to keep clean such an important tools, what horrendous microscopic offenses are lurking in that dark and humid crevice. And then there are the peanuts in bars which in the UK are usually contaminated with multiple traces of urine.   My Koreans students often call me ‘dirty’ if I stir my coffee with a pen or put a pen end in my mouth and they are unaware that so many Brits have faecal fingers.  Now I know why a number of British confections focus on ‘fingers.’ I have rarely met a dirty Korean student and the pissy urine smell that I’ve noted in numerous infant schools in Britain certainly never existed in the Korean kindergartens in which I taught.

I suspect much of the animosity towards bathhouses is simply the result of nudity; some westerners clearly perceive bathhouses physically ‘dirty’ because they consider nudity morally dirty. As one commentator wrote: I’ve also been here since 2001 and have never gone to a bathhouse. I’m not into sausage fests. I work out every day and shower at home. The room of soapy Koreans just doesn’t appeal to me. For some westerners, all it takes for a clean environment is a piece of cloth over a cock and buttock and suddenly the environment is clean; splash a bit of chlorine around and we will happily swim in each other’s neutralized dirt. In 2008, when I first read how widespread faecal matter was on the hands a large chunk of its population, I made a resolution to be extra vigilant in terms of personal hygiene and not only do I wash my hands after using the toilet, but I sanitize them with a spray or anti-bacterial hand cream. I have not once broken this resolution!


there are times when nudity is undoubtedly preferable (Borat)

It’s pointless getting defensive about our lack of hygiene, for years the British have been the butt of jokes about bad teeth. I once meet an Australian who told me he’d been taught Brits changed their trousers once every few weeks and I’ve seen the skid marks in changing rooms and smelt the effects of using underwear as blotting paper, in British schools. If you’re British at least, observing how fastidious Koreans are about personal hygiene should prompt you to realise your own cultural failings. What’s important is that you learn from such observations and of course, the process goes both ways. Koreans are also fastidious about dental hygiene and I recently read that brushing teeth three times a day over decades can lead to receding gums. A number of sources now suggest only cleaning teeth with a brush, twice a day.  As I said, there are good and bad practices in all cultures.

to contract -E-coli!

Okay, so now you’re going to be forced to stick your nose up someones butt. It’s time to choose. What nationality are you going to pick?

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Bathhouse Intimacy – Fathers and Sons

Podcast 82

I never really enjoy writing about some of the intimate moments I observe in bathhouses or even in everyday life as many western readers have a real problem with both the authors of such texts, whom they perceive as a perverts, and with the nature of its content, which they categorise, as ‘gay’ and ‘sickening’.

When fathers and sons are mutually washing each other I don’t like to sit and stare but over the last six months and through discussions with Korean friends I have managed to piece together how this process, which might possibly be defined as a ‘ritual,’ functions. At times of the week, usually the weekend, many fathers and sons visit the bathhouse and while for some the cleaning process is the prime function of the visit, for others it is simply for relaxation. I regularly see fathers and sons who will spend as much time cleaning each other, as I might in the pools and it is not in the least unusual for some to spend well over an hour cleaning either cleaning themselves or, in the case of a father, their son.

The process begins with showering under the stand-up showers and entails much the same as a standard ablution – washing the body, shampooing, shaving and brushing teeth. We have now reached the point at which most westerners would consider themselves clean but which for the majority of Koreans is only the preamble to a meticulous ablution. After the stand up shower some visitors go straight to the sit down shower units while others will spend some time enjoying the various pools and saunas. For younger children, this often means playing while older boys are content to sit with their fathers. Most of my Korean friends will soak and sweat in the various facilities for anything up to several hours, at which point dead skin cells and callouses have absorbed water and are easily removed.

the bathhouse, where ‘skinship’ is taken to the extreme

Between friends, scrubbing each others’ backs is an accepted intimacy and it is not unusual to see peer groups, especially school boys, university students or even monks sat in a line each scrubbing the person in front. Several years ago an advert depicted young boys doing exactly this and attracted some  negative and hostile comments from foreigners living in Korea. Unless you opt for a scrub down by a bathhouse attendant, the scrubbing of backs is probably the most intimate extent to which friendships, even between the closest friends, goes and seems much the same as from son to father. However, from father to son, the level of intimacy is much greater and certainly, into middle adolescence, a boy is often totally passive in this procedure. Indeed, there isn’t much difference between how some fathers clean their sons, and how you might wash a car, care for a baby or invalided person.

The cleaning process reflects a close bond between fathers and sons

The procedure often takes place in silence and begins with the boy bending over and supporting themselves on the ledge that runs under the mirrors so that their father can vigorously scrub their back with an Italy towel progressing down their buttocks, backs of thighs and calves. For anyone who has visited a bathhouse and seen for themselves this type of ritualistic cleaning, the process isn’t brief or cursory. The Italy towel is used with only the smallest amount of soap, not enough to even produce a lather and in a rough enough manner to produce a visible line of dead skins cells. Once an area has been ex-foliated, it is showered after which the Italy towel is again used, this time with a generous amount of soap.

Next, the boy sits down facing his father and puts each leg, in turn, on his father’s thigh and the same process is repeated from the soles of the feet to the thighs. Then the boy sits with his back,  neck or shoulders supported over his father’s knee so that his chest and stomach can be scrubbed. It is not in the least unusual for boys or even their fathers, to hold their genitals to one side while scrubbing the groin. Finally, with head resting on their dad’s thigh, their face is scrubbed even to the extent of cleaning noses and ears. The meticulous process ends with a session under the stand up shower. Sometimes the procedure is organised slightly differently, for example if the boy is not very tall, he might stand for much of the ablution. What is most bizarre for the westerner is the proximity between the face and genitals or backside of another person. Even between friends, if someone is standing and someone sitting, as for example might sometimes be the case when one person is scrubbing another’s back, there is no concern about the distance between the face of one and the genitals of another.

the Italy towel in action

Often the process is performed by a bathhouse attendant and every bathhouse has an area with one or several couches on which you lay for this purpose. I rarely see young children receiving a scrub down but older boys, sometimes unaccompanied and at other times with their fathers, will subject themselves to this ritual. A scrub down from an attendant is every bit as intimate, and for the westerner, invasive, as the one between fathers and sons. Koreans are so used to the cleaning ritual, they subconsciously place their limbs in the required position or require only the briefest prompt, for westerners however, the process is awkward and the body, unaccustomed to the procedure, is antagonistic to the attendant’s manipulation. And yes! They do hold your ‘bits’ to one side as they’re scrubbing. However, the experience is invigorating as well as liberating.

Clearly, father-son, as well as mother-daughter bathhouse rituals are an integral expression of ‘skinship’ and undoubtedly provide the most extreme example of intimacy between individuals in a platonic setting. On several occasions I have witnessed a father bathing his severely mentally and physically disabled son and much that was sad and tragic in the procedure was nullified by the close bond they clearly shared. But it is also possible to see such parent-child intimacy as one aspect of a broader cycle and sons can often be seen tending their aged fathers in the exact reversal of the father-son ritual.

Koreans do not carry the same cultural baggage as regards the body as many westerners either in terms of prudery or propriety and appear much less  judgmental about the bodies’ of other people. I recently read a very interesting article by a Korean grandfather who was approached by  a little girl in a bathhouse who wanted lifting into a hot pool, because she was cold (link). In many other cultures, racked with obsessions which perversify any contact between minor and adult, such intimacy, and many other intimacies observed in a bathhouse setting, are taboo. It would also seem that what is observed between those of the same gender remains private. To discuss or gossip about the body of another person would be highly inappropriate and improper and certainly, between males and females, would constitute a cultural taboo. And one of the greatest Korean attributes, especially when you’re naked and vulnerable, is that they are excellent at complimenting those parts of your body you don’t like. I wouldn’t wish my body on anyone but even naked many Koreans are able to make you feel very good about yourself.

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A Peek Into a Seoul Bathhouse (Korea Times April 28th 2011)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, Comparative, Uncategorized by 노강호 on May 24, 2011

Nam Sang-so

By Nam Sang-so

Dear Pablo, after you were free from diapers, I used to take you to a public bathhouse in Seoul. I do not think you would remember that.

Public bathhouses are abundant here. I enjoy visiting them. For a mere 4,000 won (less than $4), people can enjoy unlimited time in hot spas, saunas and hot or cold showers with free soap and “Italy towels.” Someone gave them the snappy honorific. They are made of sieve-like knitted nylon, woven pink or blue for the purpose of…read more – for touching account of a grandfather’s bathhouse experience.

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Haircut and Hand Job

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, services and facilities by 노강호 on April 2, 2011

haircut 'n shave

I’ve only once had a haircut in one of the jjimjilbang I use and it was a guy who cut my hair. For several years I’ve seen him hanging about his shop or chatting to the adjacent shoe-shine man. Recently however, I’ve seen a little line of women sat on the sofa in the barber’s shop while the barber seems to have disappeared.  A neon sign over the door announces a shave, hair cut and massage for the price of  30.000 Won (£15). There was something about those women that struck me as odd but being naive in such matters, I ignored it.


haircut'n wank?

Then, last week two different Korean friends tell me that the jjimjilbang, in effect the mogyoktang, now provides an extra service, namely a wank which apparently comes after your haircut and massage. I was shocked; it was such a respectable establishment and I teach the owner’s son. I’m wondering if the father knows but if I do, a mere waygukin, he must certainly know. And does his wife know? Well, I won’t be getting my haircut in there again. I’m not opposed to a wanking service but in the basement or another room, not in the barbers.


one pole seems ambiguous, two are definitely more suspect

I’ve never really understood the validity of the barber’s pole as a sign for a brothel though it is apparently the case that such establishments are identified by two poles spinning in opposite directions. However, even my Korean friends are uncertain about  the exact meaning of such poles.

I’ve occasionally heard rumours about the availability of wanks in bathhouses, only ever in a heterosexual context and have never personally witnessed anything remotely sexual. I wonder how much they charge to watch?

Further updates on the brothelization of my favourite bathhouse

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Bathhouse Basics (13) – The Ice Room (어름방)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics, Daegu by 노강호 on March 11, 2011


I don’t use the ice room (어름방 or 어름굴) much during the winter but in summer it is a heavenly sanctuary. An  ice room, which can appear in both a jjimjilbang (찜질방) or in a bathhouse (목욕탕), is a bit of a specialty and many do not have them. However, the chances are that one exists in your area. In the Song-So area of Daegu, Migwang (미광) has ice rooms in both the jjimjilbang and bathhouse (mogyoktang).

In the summer months ice rooms are usually iced up and scrapping off the ‘snow’ and rubbing it over your face is an exhilarating experience more so when you appreciate that outside the temperature is that of a muggy sauna.

a large jjimjilbang ice room


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Bathhouse Basics (12) – The Salt Sauna 소금방

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics by 노강호 on February 8, 2011

purging the skin

Salt saunas can be found in both bathhouse and jjimjilbang and they are one of my favourite destinations. They tend to be a slightly specialist facility which means you won’t find them in every establishment. You will find the salt experience differs between that offered in a bathhouse and that in a jjimjilbang. Jjimjilbang salt saunas often have walls and or ceilings made from rock salt or they have a large area filled with coarse rock salt in which you can submerse your limbs and body and enjoy the radiant warmth. In a bathhouse, a salt sauna usually has large pot of salt which you rub over your body allowing the salt to  both scrub and purge you skin clean. The bathhouse salt room is often combined with other properties as it may, for example, have jade or bamboo charcoal walls walls.

these salt saunas contain rock salt walls and large grain, pebble size salt on which you lay

a salt sauna with walls made of rock salt

a typical jjimjilbang salt sauna

The bathhouse salt sauna is one of my favourite places and you really do feel clean after rubbing your body with salt and then allowing it to dissolve as you sweat. I usually take a small bowl of water in with me as this helps to make the salt cling to your body and don’t forget to take a towel or large scrubbing cloth in with you as often the seats are wooden and they can burn your backside.

a bathhouse style salt sauna

As a point of interest, salt is very useful at removing smells and in a Korean market you can buy fresh mackerel which has been sprinkled in salt which you then wash off before cooking – it reduces the smell of the fish as it cooks. I’m not sure however, how well this works on body odours!


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